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Donald Trump

How Trump’s immigration crackdown chaos led to Iraqi who worked for US Army being detained at JFK airport

Amid widespread confusion about how the order will be enforced, some administration officials acknowledged that its rollout had been chaotic

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 January, 2017, 11:44am
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 January, 2017, 1:19pm

Hameed Khalid Darweesh was on an airplane bound for New York when Trump signed the executive order Friday. He was detained overnight at John F. Kennedy International Airport, and released Saturday only after several prominent immigration-rights organisations banded together to file a lawsuit on his behalf.

Darweesh, 53, had worked as a contractor for the US government in Iraq for about a decade, including as an interpreter for the US Army. He and his wife and three children had spent more than two years securing a special immigrant visa, granted to Iraqis who assisted US military forces.

Officials there also agreed to release Haider Sameer Abdulkhaleq Alshawi, an Iraqi accountant who had been living in Sweden for more than a year while waiting to get access to the US. His wife and 7-year-old son are in Houston.

The Darweesh family landed in New York at approximately 6 p.m. Friday evening, and Hameed Darweesh was detained by US Customs and Border Protection officials, according to the complaint filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of New York. He is at risk of being returned to a country where he faces enormous risks to his personal security due to his aid to the US government, the complaint said.

Darweesh told reporters outside the airport on Saturday that he was thankful so many people came to his aid, leaving their families to help secure his release.

“This is the humanity, this is the soul of America. This is what pushed me to move, to leave my country and come here,” Darweesh said.

“America is the land of freedom, the land of freedom, the land of the right. ... America is the greatest nation, the greatest people in the world.”

Brandon Friedman worked with Darweesh in 2003, when he was an infantry officer with the US Army’s 101st Airborne Division. He said Darweesh, who was among the first Iraqis to sign up to serve the US military, was “fearless” and saved countless US lives.

“This is a guy who has done a lot more for this country than most people who were born here,” Friedman said. He said he hopes Trump’s executive order is rescinded quickly: “This is putting US troops in danger because it is withdrawing the incentive that folks like Hameed have to work with us. And we depend on them to a great extent.”

The detention of a man who served the US military was particularly objectionable to Matt Zeller, founder of No One Left Behind, which aims to help Iraqi and Afghan people who worked for the U.S. military secure special immigrant visas.

He said America is breaking its promise to men and women who served the US military at great personal risk to themselves - which is not only wrong, he said, but also undermines trust in the United States and endangers the lives of any future service member sent overseas.

“This is going to get future Americans killed in future wars. It comes down to that,” he said. “We’re never going to live down this shame if we let this go on.”

More than 170 travellers have been denied entry to the United States a day after Trump signed the executive order suspending immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

Citing the purpose of blocking terrorists, Trump signed the order Friday suspending entry of travellers from Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Iran and Libya for 90 days and that of refugees from any country for 120 days.

CNN has reported the suspension covers a total of about 134 million people. A US official said Saturday that even Green Card holders from the seven countries may also be subject to the entry ban.

Additional reporting by Kyodo